Words: Thomas Stichbury
No doubt about it, Dame Inga Beale has earned her stripes in the ongoing battle against HIV.
As chair of the HIV Commission - an independent body supported by the Terrence Higgins Trust, National AIDS Trust and Elton John AIDS Foundation - Dame Inga and her team were tasked to put together an action plan to reach the UN’s zero-infections target, setting a goal of ending HIV transmissions in England by 2030
In the Attitude February issue - out now to download and to order globally - the first female CEO of Lloyd’s of London opens up about the losses and personal tragedies that fuelled her decision to join the frontline.
“Well, I’m a bit older and I have some friends who died very, very early on of Aids. And I have friends actually who died, not so recently, with HIV, even though they had drugs. I also have many gay friends who are living very, very comfortable lives because they are taking the right treatments,” she explains.
Dame Inga Beale leads the Politics category in the Attitude 101 February issue, out now
“I also am a bit of, I suppose, a campaigner and an activist for equality for the LGBT community. I’m bisexual and I speak a lot on this topic; I think it’s really important to have senior people, senior figures being outspoken on it.”
Dame Inga and her group of commissioners – including former Welsh rugby captain and HIV advocate Gareth Thomas – met people across the country living with HIV; visited HIV clinics; and spoke to communities of different cultural and racial backgrounds, where there is still a taboo around the topic, before publishing their potentially game-changing recommendations.
“It is all about testing, testing, testing. When we first started out on the Commission, we didn’t realise that this would be such a critical thing. We didn’t realise that many people are not even offered an HIV test, despite visiting a sexual health clinic, particularly if you’re a woman, particularly if you’re a woman of colour,” she reveals.
“We want to normalise HIV testing, just as you would go and get tested for anything else; if you’re registering at a doctor’s, you’re getting blood tests, they’re doing a health check-up, test for HIV alongside other things. If we don’t normalise it, we can’t get rid of this stigma, this sort of double standard.”
On the 1st December, World AIDS Day, no less, the UK government – and opposition – backed the recommendations: Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak went so far as to endorse them on the floor of the House of Commons.
“We were very cautious because of Covid, to be honest. I, personally, was so worried that Covid was such an important topic for government, for the people, for society… I thought we might not get the attention we did,” Dame Inga recalls. “So, I was over the moon.”
Leading the Politics category in our Attitude 101 list of LGBTQ traiblazers in recognition of her seismic work, the 57-year-old businesswoman outlines how she will ensure the government honours its commitment to the cause.
“We [the Commission] are actually going to remain involved,” she stresses. “The government will be held to account and the people in the House of Lords as well. The action plan is going to be delivered next year and we’ll keep pushing for that, and then they’ll be delivering their annual progress report… we’ve got to keep on, we can’t just let up.”
As for how likely it is that England will become the first country to put a stop to HIV transmissions, Dame Inga is optimistic.
“I’m absolutely convinced,” she maintains. “Maybe I’m still on a high from World AIDS Day, but to have Michael Gove live in conversation saying how committed the government’s going to be to this – whatever your political leanings, and to be recorded on video like that – I feel very confident that this country can actually do it.”
Read the full interview in the Attitude 101 February issue featuring 101 LGBTQ trailblazers, out now.